Exploring Race. My Continuing Journey in Education (and Life)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is happening in our country now. I am always working to be a better teacher and a more effective and sensitive facilitator when the art in my classroom and the conversations turn to topics such as race–conversations which are complicated and rich. As artist and educator working for social justice, I teach drama. Art is a powerful pathway to justice.

I believe all teaching is political and any teacher who denies that statement is not being honest with herself or is a big liar. We all have our politics and our reasons for entering the classroom or studio each day. I seek to challenge my students to take action to create a more just and loving world one day and one student at a time.

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I SEE IT DIFFERENTLY As part of ENCOUNTER in grades four and five –a study of American history through the eyes of both explorers and indigenous peoples, students create a work of art. Student art contains the words “I See It Differently” and reflects something essential about the individual student and his or her unique perspective.

I recently was able to attend the PoCC (People of Color Conference) sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. NAIS It was an exhausting, riveting, often overwhelming and challenging learning experience. I was lucky to attend the conference with three colleagues who were willing and able to engage with me in discussions about what we were experiencing and learning at the conference. My colleagues and I come from different backgrounds, but we all worked to listen and to engage in constructive and honest conversation as we labored to process the incredible PoCC event. We wept and laughed and ate. A highlight of the conference for me was singing with the conference choir for an hour each day. It was thrilling to lift our voices together in song. There were some serious musicians in that choir. You can bet that anyone who spent an hour singing with other attendees while learning five songs “by heart” over the multi-day conference saw music as both a balm and a pathway for dialogue and transformation. Singing was a highlight for me. By the end of those three days, singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome” and “Holy Holy” I was ready to share the music with the over 3500 conference attendees. It was a joy to share the stage with my fellow PoCC choir members.

My experiences at the conference required that I look at how I define race, how I see racism in our society and how I expect to be a an ally and catalyst for racial justice in my personal life, in my school community and in society. I learned that I must examine my personal experiences and perspective and to “take it one step at a time”.

I thought I had some awareness of the rampant racism in our society and I learned about how little I know. The issue is much more desperate than I had imagined. By the end of the conference, I determined that I will speak my truth and that I will challenge myself to resist complacency when I meet racism in any form in my life. I decided that I had to move beyond what is comfortable in any circle and speak because I can. I heard repeatIMG_1290edly that unless white allies also speak the truth to racism with our brothers and sisters of all races, things will not change.  How to do this while being a listener, an efficient and empathetic communicator and a persuasive voice for change is my continuing struggle. But I am trying and I am trying with the support of my colleagues from the conference. Another gift I received from attending the conference: those supportive colleagues have become my friends.

IMG_1294I recently worked with volunteers from our faculty and student body on a presentation of the last five minutes of Dr. King’s famous speech. Our student council decided together that students should read a section of the speech. The resulting presentation was moving and powerful in a some ways, but it was just scratching the surface. I have much work to do to dig deeper into the issue and to find authentic and challenging ways to celebrate the birthday of Dr. King with my students at Baker and in my personal life. What does that look like? I hope to discover some answers to that question. I heard from many of my students’ families that the reading/performance of the section from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech this past Wednesday spurred discussions at home. I requested that each participant watch the speech ahead of time with parents or trusted adults. I heard from families that the reading and the preparation ahead of time was helpful in spurring discussions about Dr. King’s dream, U.S. history and the civil rights movement and most urgently, racism in America in the present day and how it affects individuals and communities.

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Here are some resources I find helpful:

 http://www.pbs.org/race/001_WhatIsRace/001_00-home.htm  This site succeeds in asking and answering questions about race including what race is and isn’t and the history of the concept of race in America.

I also like these guideposts for Equity by Nichole Berg on the Teaching Tolerance Blog. http://www.tolerance.org/blog/guideposts-equity .

NAIS published this: What White Children Need to Know About Race. An excellent article on how and why we need to allow race into the conversation in our classrooms.

Do you have resources you find helpful? I’d love to know about them.